With the Monaco Grand Prix and the Cannes Film Festival coming up later this week, all eyes are on the French Riviera. But what makes this celebrity-studded region so special? You may think that the Cote d’Azur is only for the rich and famous – but, au contraire!
Fly into France’s third busiest airport, Nice-Cote d’Azur, and discover what makes the azure coast so accessible to all.
Undoubtedly, this stretch of prime real estate is dripping with wealth and designer everything, but between every jewel on every crown, lies some overlooked gold!
If you prefer to conserve your budget for aperitifs, haute couture, and cordon bleu cuisine, plan some daytrips from any of the lower profile–and less pricey towns–in the area. You have carte blanche to enjoy this dazzling coastline, so make traveling along it part of the fun!
Here are some of the more famous jewels, with a smattering of the gold that lies in between.
1.) Must See – Saint Tropez
You can’t miss Saint Tropez, colloquially shortened to St-Trop.
In this haven for the world’s jet set, glitz and glamour abound on its many breathtaking beaches–but not much else! Things can get a little racy as you explore the Baie de Pampelonne where topless is the norm. Nearby Tahiti Beach promotes a clothing optional policy whilst the Cape d’Agde scene is simply, au naturel. Ooh la la!
Famed for its beach scene and vibrant nightlife, St-Trop is still very much en mode!
How to See St-Trop without Going Broke: Take a Daytrip from Toulon!
An hour to the west sits Toulon, a military harbor immortalized by French author Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables as home to the Le Bagne de Toulon, the prison in which Valjean was held for nineteen years for stealing that loaf of bread.
Nowadays, Toulon is a charming and historic city filled with picturesque squares and fountains, stunning harbor views, and a popular local-produce market. With lodgings ranging from standard to five-star, this is a great alternative to the noise and lights of St-Trop!
2.) Must See – Cannes
The Cannes Film Festival is world famous, but alas – it’s also invite only!
Should you find yourself in this ritzy town without a ticket for the movies, take the fifteen minute ferry ride to the oft-filmed Ile Sainte-Marguerite, and enter the actual Fort Royal cell of the Man in the Iron Mask, France’s most mysterious prisoner!
Back on the mainland, the palm tree lined Promenade de la Croisette, which runs the length of Cannes, is brimming with chic cafes, designer boutiques, and plush hotels. It’s no coincidence that Cannes is twinned with upscale Beverly Hills!
Cannes’ annual calendar also boasts the Yacht Festival and the Festivale d’Arte Pyrotechnique, an explosive fireworks extravaganza.
Now that’s a wrap!
3.) Must See – Nice
Nice la Belle (Nice the Beautiful), is the second largest city on the French Mediterranean and is only four hours by train from Paris. Nice is a bustling, lively place and is quite simply, ‘nice.‘ (We couldn’t resist!)
For relaxation, head over to the Promenade des Anglais (La Prom) and gaze over the passers-by at the sparkling azure horizon, as you chill out in one of the iconic, south-facing blue chairs (chaises bleues). La Prom also plays host to the Nice Carnival every February, one of the world’s top three carnivals.
A few streets inland from La Prom, starting at Place Massena, is the pedestrian zone (zone piétonne) where for a distance of about four blocks, you can browse for souvenirs, or join le cafe society, as you nibble your croissant and sip your perfect cafe au lait in this welcome retreat from the bustling beachfront. When in Nice, it is also de rigueur to munch on Salad Nicoise. The tasty salad takes its name from the Nicoise olives of this city.
How to See Nice and Cannes Without Going Broke: Take a Daytrip from Antibes
Located between Cannes and Nice, Antibes is the perfect base camp for daytrips in any direction.
With its sixteen miles of beaches, many festivals, Picasso museum, and countless parks and gardens, you may find yourself content with viewing the neighboring jewels from half a mile up the Chemin de Calvaire, atop the old Lighthouse of Antibes–reputedly the best view in the whole region.
4.) Must See – Monaco
Want to see some “Blue Bloods” other than Donnie Wahlberg? Take the scenic coastal road to Monaco, the world’s second smallest country, for a glimpse of royalty. Ruled by Prince Albert II, this tiny tax haven attracts the wealthiest and most glamorous to its exclusive shores.
Whether you burst out of the grand entrance of the famous Monte Carlo casino as one of the world’s nouveau riche, or slink out the rear exit with no shirt on your back, you’re sure to appreciate the stunning yachts on display in La Condamine, the area’s widest and most luxurious harbor, and never more so than in late May, when the local roads are transformed by the magnificent spectacle that is the Monaco Grand Prix!
Only ten miles from the Italian border, Monaco is bordered on three sides by France and on one by the Mediterranean. Maybe in a country this small, you really will rub shoulders with royalty!
How to See Monaco Without Going Broke – Take a Daytrip from Roquebrune-Cap-Martin
Just outside Monaco is Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, a collection of small towns with quiet, secluded beaches and the perfect place to set up camp. If aerial acrobatics is your thing, lay your beach towel down on the Plage du Golfe-Bleu and gaze upward at hang-gliders and parachutists as they attempt to land on this popular stretch of pebbly sand. But, en garde! Some of these smaller coves will offer amenities and refreshments, while others will not.
Before we blog across the border, let’s not forget to mention the timeless blue of the Mediterranean Sea and the seemingly endless azure blue sky, which gave this region its name. Any trip to the Cote d’Azur will be well worth it for these two reasons alone, so regardless of which golden town or famous jewel you choose to lay your hat in, your memories of the Cote d’Azur will give you a new found joie de vivre!
Tell us about your best experiences and memories of the French Riviera in the comments section!
Remember–we’re looking for the crème de la crème only!